March for Our Lives-Build Multiracial Unity

by Karyn Pomerantz, March 23, 2018

Blog march for our lived feg 2018Thousands of young people are marching against mass violence in schools and neighborhoods.  They are demanding new gun control laws to prevent school murders, impressing many with their determination and maturity.

This movement can become stronger as it attracts thousands of people whose anti-violence demands are often ignored.

These are some of the issues to build a stronger movement:

Join the demonstrations against the police murders of black and Latin men and women. 

These demonstrations have been diverse and have drawn many new activists. Multiracial unity and militancy made the Ferguson Rebellion especially strong, and the rebels welcomed anyone who would participate and accept the consequences. Later, organizations which had provided strong leadership, such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), weakened themselves by adopting a nationalist position. BLM refused to allow white participation in its subsequent convention, about the same time as they became funded by billionaire George Soros and the Ford Foundation.  Other organizations that divide people, such as Stand Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which recruits exclusively whites to fight anti-black racism, grew in popularity. Only together can we defeat racism, whose divisive effect hurts us all. We can encourage people to respect and follow black leadership, and at the same time  create organizations of black, Latin, white, Asian and native people.

The leaders of the march could issue statements condemning the police for racism and brutality and call for their classmates to stand with black classmates and to end the swat team and militaristic responses to the protests.

Call for the prevention of school and community based murders of black students.    

While most school shootings of black students occur 1 or 2 at a time, they are frequent and deadly.  DC students at a March 20th town hall meeting reported their fears of traveling back and forth to school with some trips lasting over 2 hours.  Black students have demanded actions against school based violence, more after school programs, jobs, and mental health care.  Their demands are often ignored, and students are blamed as being naturally violent and aggressive, reinforcing a racist stereotype of the “angry black man and woman.”  Teens expressed their severe disappointment at the lack of a response and concern for their traumas.

The government applies gun control differently among African Americans as we saw in the police murder of Philando Castile, the Minnesotan driver who carried a legal firearm but was killed by a cop.  In comparison, the cop who killed the white woman in Minnesota was charged with second degree murder and jailed without bail. White victims are treated with sympathy and respect.

Arming teachers will also reinforce these differences.  Research reveals disproportionate rates of violence against black students by school personnel.  Many teachers are white and view black children as dangerous. Stacy Patton, a Morgan State professor wrote in the Washington Post February 27, 2018:

“Calling for stricter policing, metal detectors and guns in schools is an attempt to change the subject from gun control. This is about protecting the narrative that white suburban schools are places of safety and preserving the idea that violence is elsewhere, that black and Latino youth represent danger. Even white children aren’t immune from the dangers of mass shootings in schools. If their families and governments can’t keep them safe, what reason is there to expect a mostly white teaching force to magically overcome the risks of implicit bias, prejudice and racial microaggressions to protect children of color whom they already have difficulties communicating with and perceive as threats?”

More importantly, how does the government use violence?

Violence has always been used to protect profits and property, not people, and certainly not workers, black or white.  The government used violence to decimate Native Americans, enslave black people, break strikes and unions, and intimidate activists.  It promised Saudi Arabia $350 billion over 10 years that will fund the assault on Yemen where cholera, starvation, and killings have ravaged workers.  The Administration under Trump, Obama, and Clinton have cut social programs to fund the military and ramp up its preparation for war in .Asia.

African American people have a history of defending themselves for centuries: supporting the British against the plantation owners in colonial times, organizing slave revolts, fighting against the Klan, and protecting their homes. Only during World Wars I and II did the government arm them.  Once the wars ended the black GIs faced race wars and extremely limited benefits, such as unfair mortgages, and limited housing options, and union memberships. Disarming black workers leaves them vulnerable to fascist attacks, now encouraged by Trump.

blog march thurgood marshall feb 2018The campaign against violence has the potential to unite all students to reject racism and its violence against the working class. Students from Parkland and DC’s Thurgood Marshall rallied together days before the march (see photo).  The students have demonstrated their commitment and leadership to fight for solutions.  Let’s make sure they are not misled into the Democratic Party.  Black leaders in the Ferguson Rebellion rejected the Democrats, pacifist church leaders, and many non-profit organizations as allies and invited their neighbors to join them.  Let’s build such a movement now!

VICTORY AGAINST RACIST DC TRANSIT BACKGROUND CHECKS

Untitledby Karyn Pomerantz and Linda Green.

Workers for the Washington Metro Are Transit Authority (WMATA) won a class action suit in 12/17 that awarded them $6.5 million to compensate for loss of income when they were fired or not hired due to criminal background checks. While the settlement does not require rehiring affected Metro workers, it is a first step in changing policy and is an important victory against unemployment and racism. It reverses a 2011 WMATA policy that banned people with criminal records from employment if they had ever been arrested but not convicted, committed a crime that had nothing to do with their job, were framed for a crime, or had completed serving a sentence years before. Metro conducted new criminal background checks on job applicants and workers who had been off from work for over 90 days due to illness, work-related injuries, or caring for a sick family member. The company also ran checks on workers who had lost their jobs for unrelated reasons, and were re-hired later. After Metro conducted the criminal background check, they fired even the workers whom they knew had a criminal record when they had been hired and had worked for WMATA for years. Metro will now review job applicants on a case-by-case basis rather than apply a rigid anti-hiring policy to all.

 

Lawyers from the NAACP’s Legal and Education Defense Fund, the Washington Committee for Civil Rights, and a private law firm (Arnold and Porter) filed a class action suit against WMATA, arguing that this policy promoted racism and discrimination. Because black and Latin workers disproportionately suffer more police surveillance, arrests, incarceration, and convictions, the denial of jobs based on background checks results in an unequal, racist impact. The US National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that white DC residents use drugs at the same rate as black residents, but the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights reports that African Americans comprise 8 out of 10 arrests.

 

Metro’s policy that bans hiring formerly incarcerated people contributes to the higher rates of unemployment and poverty of black men and women. WMATA is a large employer that provides decent wages, health insurance, and retirement benefits. With over 6,000 employees, this policy deprived hundreds of people with any criminal record of an opportunity to attain economic security and independence.

 

MULTIRACIAL GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING EXPOSED METRO’S RACISM

 

Public health workers and students from the Health Disparities Committee of the Metro Washington Public Health Association (MWPHA) began a campaign against this policy in 2012 and collaborated with the mostly black residents of Wards 7 and 8, particularly in the Stoddert Terrace neighborhood, to address social conditions that affect people’s health and well-being. Residents participated in workshops and identified imprisonment and unemployment as key problems. They were upset that those released from incarceration faced so many difficulties in job searches and housing due to background checks. Indeed, for the 7,000 workers returning to DC each year, there is urgent need for jobs and a living wage

 

Stories they heard included that of one bus operator who lost her house and custody of her child due to her WMATA firing, being forced to move away from her family. Others report that Metro has fired or not hired people for infractions that have nothing to do with their actual or potential job performance. Many workers successfully worked at Metro for years; another fired worker actually found a job as a bus operator at another company.

 

The Committee and residents mobilized members and neighbors, organized rallies at WMATA Headquarters, provided testimonies at Board hearings, forced the City Council to have a special hearing, collected 1000 names on petitions, sponsored workshops, introduced workers to legal teams, and spread the word to residents in neighborhoods most affected. They built a multiracial, grassroots group to oppose this policy while the union, ATU 689, did not openly challenge it.

FURTHER ACTION IS NEEDED

 

During this time, the DC City Council passed “Ban the Box” legislation that prohibits employers from asking about arrests…at the first interview but permits it at subsequent ones. Such policies are very common throughout the country. This will not matter if human resource policies look like the 2011 WMATA policy which endorsed retroactive firings. The internet has made background checks ubiquitous, so limiting questions asked at an interview may not even be relevant. There is a need to demand much stronger antiracist employment policies in many industries including hospitals, retail, schools, and construction in addition to transit.

 

 

For information on eligibility for payments and filing claims re Metro settlement, contact Linda Green, green_linda@hotmail.com. The deadline is March 8, 2018.Photo on background checks